A Judicial Settlement Conference, commonly referred to as a JSC, is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in which a Judge acts as a quasi-mediator to help North Carolina family law litigants reach a settlement. In North Carolina, parties seeking to take certain specific issues to courts, such as Equitable Distribution or retroactive Child Support, must first attempt to resolve their claims outside of court. ADR includes practices such as private mediation and arbitration, but the most often used method in Mecklenburg County is the Judicial Settlement Conference.
During a Judicial Settlement Conference, both parties and their attorneys, work with a Family Court Judge to exchange offers and counter-offers until a settlement is reached. The Family Court Judge assists in the process much like a mediator but also has the credentials to impart their opinion on the outcome if the matter was before him or her in their court. In North Carolina Family Court, there is a “One Judge, One Family” methodology, so the Family Court Judge assigned to your Judicial Settlement Conference will be a different Judge than the one assigned to decide all of your family law issues. Receiving an opinion about the strength or weakness of a case directly from another Family Court Judge is an immeasurable benefit and often helps both parties take a more realistic approach towards settlement.
Unlike private mediation in which the parties equally split the cost of a mediator, a Judicial Settlement Conference is conducted as no charge by the Court. The Judicial Settlement Conference is often limited to 60 or 90 minutes, so the parties must act quickly and be prepared with financial documents, valuations, and an opening offer for settlement. Due to this time constraint, it is not unusual for the parties to make significant progress towards settlement at a Judicial Settlement Conference and for the final terms to be negotiated in the following days or weeks.
If a settlement is reached at a Judicial Settlement Conference, the parties often sign a Memorandum of Judgment/Order (MOJ) which memorializes the agreement. The mediating-Judge can also enter the MOJ into the Court record, making the agreement an official Order of the Court.